If you’ve ever had to make a presentation you’ll know that one of the key issues is getting and keeping audience attention. Signs that you’re not succeeding are fairly easy to spot: fidgeting, participants talking to each other, checking mobile phones and people wandering about at the back.
Getting attention is really not that difficult if you remember some simple points.
Get Audience Attention by Starting with Fireworks
Start your presentation as you mean to go on with plenty of fizz. There are a couple of issues that you have to overcome when you start your presentation. Firstly you are probably not the only thing on the audience’s agenda. And even if you are, twenty first century man has managed to thoroughly distract itself with all kinds of mobile entertainments that you can’t take anything for granted. Secondly you need to set expectations. Let’s face it; a lot of public speakers are about as interesting as watching paint dry. So make sure that you grab the audience’s attention before they get chance to settle down.
Keep Audience Attention by Checking their Pulse Regularly
When you’re admitted to hospital as an emergency one of the really irritating things that they do is come round every hour or so and check that you’re still breathing and that your pulse is regular. It’s a basic but vital check. In the same way you need to check that your audience is paying attention regularly by asking them to respond, nod their heads, raise their hands, murmur their ascent, stamp their feet and so. Make no assumptions and don’t give them the opportunity to get distracted.
Keep Audience Attention by Getting their Agreement
When you’re presenting you can’t necessarily go round each person to see if they’re getting the point. To find out if audiences are on the same page, you need to ask closed questions that allow the audience to say “yes” or “no,” put their hands up if they agree that sort of thing. And you need to get them to agree as early on in your presentation as possible. Getting them used to answering your questions makes it easier later on. Start with simple things:
“Didn’t we have a great session first thing?” (Assuming it was)
“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” (Assuming it is)
“Are you here to learn something new?” (Assuming they are)
Make sure that you get them to respond by raising their hand, saying “yes” or, at the very least, nodding their heads. Don’t allow them to just sit there. Once the audience has got the idea you can move onto questions that require them to think at bit.
This isn’t just about getting the audience to participate it will also give you feedback as to whether or not you’re on the right track. This allows you to change direction or modify your presentation if you need to.
Provide Something for Everyone
If you have a special dietary requirement you’ll know what it’s like turning up to a party only to find that the host has forgotten to cater for you. Everyone else is stuffing their faces and you’re left feeling ravenous nibbling on bits of garnish like an over-sized rabbit.
If only the host had remembered to provide something for everyone. It’s just the same with speaking. We tend to lean towards our own preferred learning style and forget to provide something for other people. Consequently we end up with a whole section of our audience who simply don’t get it.
A few years ago when I was training radio presenters one guy kept failing his assessments. I couldn’t work out what was going on. He worked with his hands but he was bright enough, well spoken and articulate. He had a bit of that larrikin Australian spirit about him that would go down well on community radio. I took him on one side and tried to get to the bottom of the problem. It didn’t take me long to realise that he was an auditory learner and I hadn’t provided much for this group.
I started to include checklists that we could read out and he flew through with top marks.
Keeping Audience Attention by Making ‘em Laugh
Donald O’Conner sings “Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh!” in the movie “Singing in the Rain” and it’s true: everyone loves to laugh. Laughing releases feel-good endorphins in the front of the brain, giving us that natural high feeling that you get after exercise. There is good evidence that laughter is good for your circulatory and repertory systems. Laughter is a powerful emotion that can, at least on a temporary basis; push away a case of the sads.
So, make people laugh and they’ll be grateful to you and will be hanging out for more. If you want to read more about using humour in public speaking, check out last month’s article here: http://clearlytalking.com/humour-in-public-speaking/
Keep Audience Attention by Keeping Things Moving
Whilst we’re talking about changing direction it’s vital that you don’t let things stagnate but keep things moving. Audiences bore easily. So make sure that you have something of interest all the way through so that you maintain the same level of energy that you started with.
Remember what we said in the first point: how you start is about setting the audience’s expectations. When you’re into the meat of your presentation it’s about maintaining those expectations. If you start with lots of sparkle but then become lack lustre you’re going to have to work extra hard to get your audience’s attention back.
Get Audience Attention by Ending with a Bang
End in the same way that you started: with a bang. The end is probably the most important part of your whole presentation. You need to be clear and direct, make sure that your audience know exactly what you want them to do with the information you have given them. This is sometimes called a “call to action.”
A common mistake is to end with a damp squib statement like: “That’s all,” “Thanks for listening,” “Any questions?” and so on. In particular a closing question time should be avoided at costs. Whilst there is a convention to have closing question times, they have the effect of undoing a good close with a solid call to action. People’s memories for such things are remarkably short. If they have burning questions that you haven’t adequately addressed in the body of your presentation offer to answer questions afterwards.
Your ending should be a summation of everything you’ve said to that point, it should tie up lose ends and, most importantly, it should have some appeal to the audience’s emotions.
Winston Churchill, the famous British wartime leader said:
“Let men still say, ‘This was their finest hour!’”
Your ending likewise should be your finest moment.
Putting into Action
Next time you do a presentation have a go, try out one or two of the ideas and see what happens. You can always try out the others on another occasion.
If you want a bit of help and you’re in Melbourne we run a Speaker’s Forum through Meetup on the second Wednesday evening of the month (www.meetup.com/ClearlyTalking) and we run regular workshops on public speaking details of which can be found on our website (www.clearlytalking.com).
For the full article and two bonus points check out the blog on our website
Drop me a line with your personal experiences of public speaking.
Voice & Speech Coach
Clearly Talking, Melbourne